The Improbable Journey
By J. Kossler

A/N: Let's see if this works out. Anyone with me? :)


Kei had woken an hour early that morning, figuring the extra hour would give him plenty of time to fish for the tribe. Signs from the forest told him the ice months were fast approaching—the sudden bite to the wind as it sliced through his tunic, the way the daylight bled into the night, leaving him with less time to hunt. And there was, of course, the icy water almost shocking him into a stupor when a crag goblin whipped a rock at his head.

He didn't feel the pain, but noticed the loud thunk as the rock struck his temple, sending him pin-wheeling into the river. He managed to hear a voice before the water rudely sunk icy teeth into his hide.

"Hey squirrel-toes, you really ought to look up—!"

Kei spurted out water and forced his head above the surface, kicking back to the shoreline. A rush of anger flowed through him as he dragged himself back on the shore, claws digging into the dirt and sand. What the Gods was that? he thought, struggling to take a breath while his entire body shook with cold. He tried to regain his dignity, uncomfortably aware of the vest sticking to his wet body.

"Damn, he didn't go over the waterfall!" The crag goblins moaned in disappointment, only to crack up again. A spear through the gut would have taught them a lesson. But then their dark blood would cloud the river, flowing generously from their rust-colored hides, a color reminding him unpleasantly of normal blood after it'd sat out in the air for a while.

He briefly glanced at his spear, then decided it wasn't worth it to lose a spear to hit a crag goblin. His hands squeezed into fists. "Shut up, you stupid Reds! You're lucky I didn't bring my bow!" That would have taught them. But then again, there were three Reds, so unless he had a three-pronged arrow and perfect aim, it wouldn't have been worth it.

The Reds clung to the edge of the cliff overlooking the river, finding footholds Kei would never have known existed. And, of course, they were laughing at him.

"Not our fault Greens don't look up before they come to the river. If you moss-brains were smart, you'd have learned from the last five times we'd done that!"

"That's not even a real Green!" the one on the left said. The crag goblin's left ear hung crooked from his head. Where a normal Red ear stuck out at a forty-five degree angle, his was cocked at thirty degrees. "It's a brown-hide, one of those dirty loincloths the Greens been letting into their tribe."

The others snickered. CrookedEar continued. "Hey dirt-hide… by the way, how was the river? Did you have a nice swim? Did it clean some of the filth from your hide? Maybe you are a green underneath, if you'd stop rolling in dung!"

The other two burst into a full roar, and it didn't take long for CrookedEar to join them.

I hate Reds! Just because they found a good spot to whack someone in the head with a rock… Oh, if I did bring my bow with me, I'd have put an arrow through all of them! Forget good aim! At least I'd have taken one of them down. He squeezed the handle of his spear, resisting the urge.

"You're pathetic," he hissed through his teeth, "Hiding up there where you know you're safe!" To emphasize, he bared his three-inch long fangs in a snarl.

"Oh, that was so scary!" They cackled harder.

Kei opened his mouth to say something in retort when another rock smashed against his forehead. He'd seen the throw, but the concept of move out of the way didn't come fast enough; he was too cloudy-headed from the previous smack in the temple and the shock of cold water.

Splash. Speaking of cold water…

He coughed and gurgled, thrashing in a sad attempt to paddle back to the shore. A mix between a whimper and a shout escaped his throat. The current was stronger this time, sweeping down the mountains with a force greater than he could resist, if his flailing even counted as swimming. His foot caught against a root and he did a tumble in the water, getting a mouth full and nose-full of stinging liquid.

Kei fought his way to the surface, snorting out the water. He clawed helplessly, searching for anything to hold onto. The sound of the Reds' laughter had faded over the roar of the river; the only thing he could hear was water slamming against his sensitive, oversized ears. He gulped more water, only to have a small wave crash over his head.

The river calmed only briefly, allowing him a glimpse of the forest rushing away from him as the current carried along. His ears burned with fear as he realized he was getting closer to Blue territory—no, even that wasn't important, there was the waterfall. Terror sent knives through his body and mind, driving home one need—get out of the water.

He saw strange squares in the water, visible then not, shimmering. His breath spirited out of him, leaving a pounding feeling in his chest. The water bled into a strangely reddish hue, his vision shaped like a grits bowl and shrinking steadily. The squares were coming steadily closer. The omniscient end to the river loomed ahead, only a few minutes more and he'd be thrown from aloft. Another flash of silvery squares. What were those things, anyway?

The net slapped against his face, tangling around his feet and arms. A jolt of terror made him jerk. The pain in his chest intensified until it felt like a cannon was shot through it. Gods! I don't want to drown, I wish something would kill me! The burning spread from his lungs to the rest of his body. His movements slowed.

There was a tug on the net, and he felt himself being yanked from the water. The rope burned against his skin. The water wanted him, and he suddenly felt stretched thin, like a bendy rope between two hobgoblins. A memory flashed past his inner eye. Sitting by the fire in the forest, studying the dappled coloration of his hide. It was especially visible on his face, giving him the illusion of light freckles.

Something had thrown a net in his way. It would be hard to see a light brown goblin rushing through the river. But maybe his dappled hide saved him? The memory faded away, as did his interest in knowing why the net was thrown—all that mattered was that it was.

Then, suddenly, he was dumped on land, three fish flopping around him.

His lungs heaved and he coughed up water, breathing in air with the sweet scent of… fish. He gagged and vomited water and what vaguely resembled breakfast, spurting and choking. Then, when he felt all the water was gone from his lungs, he slowly opened his eyes.

He choked again—a blue face leaned over him.

"A brown sylvan goblin and three fish," the blue goblin said, leaning back on her heels. At least, he thought it was a she. To be honest, his head hurt so much he didn't really care. What he found himself now caring about was the spear in her hand and how sharp the tip was. It could plunge right through his unprotected chest. "You'd feed our tribe for a few days."

Kei tensed and felt adrenaline surge through his limbs. With the rush in his body, he fought to get untangled from the net, only serving in getting himself more and more immobile. Every movement pulled the nets tighter around him to the point where they were constricting his blood flow. He could see his usually sandy brown skin starting to pale.

She laughed and placed her spear down beside her. "Calm down, I'm joking. I'm a highland, after all. You sylvans are practically our cousins." Her hand brushed against his forearm as she kneeled next to him. He flinched. "If you keep squirming like that you'll not only make this harder, and my knife might slip." He only now realized she was holding a small two inch long blade.

Kei stopped moving, lying tensely. With my luck, she just wants me to lie still so she can slit my throat easier…

But the blue moorland goblin slipped the knife under the net's ropes, slicing them apart. "You'll owe me for this, though. It takes me a week to make one of these." She paused, looking at him. Kei tested his mobility. He was still hopelessly caught, but he felt a little give.

He swallowed hard. "Th-Thanks." Damn, my voice is squeaking! "I thought I'd go… over the waterfall? Hah, it's good fun." His attempt at a joke came up short, but she still laughed and shook her head.

"Well, you're not much of a swimmer." She sliced off another rope then picked up her spear, likely incase he felt like rewarding her kindness with betrayal.

Kei's gaze wandered from the spear to the moorland, and finally to the spot where the river suddenly ended. A violent shudder ran through him. Good thing he didn't go over that waterfall. He wouldn't have survived; Reds had tested the theory of whether a goblin would live that fall.

And he still had to get back to the Dapplewood forest. Calm down. As long as you can avoid highland soldiers, you'll be fine. Be glad this one hasn't decided to kill you. Just don't give it a reason to change its mind.

The Blue continued cutting the ropes around him until she cut one binding his wrists, and he came free with grunt. She backed away with the spear pointed at him, eying him warily—he was, after all, larger than her. Kei jumped up with a groan, looking down at his rescuer. She was a good half-foot shorter than him, normal for highland females. Not that he was an expert in Blues, but from what he understood.

"Thanks," he said more definitively, barely catching himself from stumbling to his side. He felt lightheaded. Would he even make it back to the forest without fainting?

The goblin girl's good humor seemed to have vanished the moment he became free. He was a threat now. "You ought to get going. I won't do anything to you, but I can't say the same for the warriors. They're never happy to see sylvans, or anyone for that matter, on the highlands. You know, after what the hobgoblins did a season ago." She lowered her eyes, then pointed with her spear. He glanced over his shoulder—right, she was pointing toward the forests, toward his home. That made sense. What the Gods else would she be pointing at?

"Thanks again." Kei backed away from her, then moved swiftly back toward the forests.